October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child, is a day of mobilisation and action to advance the rights of girls around the world. Amid worrying developments that have undone decades of progress on girls’ rights, Education International joins allies from around the world in calling for governments and the international community to invest in and protect girls’ rights.
“Invest in Girls' Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being” is the United Nations theme for the day. Action and investment are urgently needed to address the persistent barriers to the fulfillment of the right to quality, public education for girls in all their diversity.
Barriers to access
Globally, girls continue to see their education threatened and disrupted. In the worst cases, girls’ right to education is completely denied.
That is the situation in Afghanistan where since 2021, girls have not been able to attend school beyond the 6th grade and are barred from attending university. Afghan women and girls have been pushed out of public life altogether, in a crime that the United Nations described as gender apartheid.
For decades now, women and girls in Iran have faced discrimination and oppression within the educational system, with practices such as gender segregation, biased textbooks, and restrictive dress codes limiting their opportunities and perpetuating gender inequality. Worse still, Education International research has revealed a horrifying campaign of violence against schoolgirls during the nationwide protests for “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Together with the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teacher Trade Associations, Education International documented 358 chemical attacks on 325 girls’ schools from December 3, 2022, to April 29, 2023. The poisoning of girls’ schools aimed to suppress resistance and instil fear in families, leading parents to keep their daughters at home and disrupting their education.
In France, women and girls have seen government discrimination against Muslim people escalate with the ban on wearing the abaya in public schools. At the beginning of the new academic year, 67 girls were turned away from school for wearing an abaya, a loose female garment controversially associated with Islam and banned for allegedly breaking the rules of secularism in education. Hundreds of girls were told to change their outfits.
At the same time, climate change is also limiting the rights of millions of girls around the world, including their right to education. While the climate crisis is the greatest threat facing humanity and our planet, its impact is not equal. Woman and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected.
Girls, especially those living in underprivileged communities in the Southern Hemisphere are more likely to drop out or miss school due to climate impacts. In the words of climate activists Vanessa Nakate, “the fight for climate justice is the fight for gender justice”. Closing the gender gap in education can help countries better adapt to the climate crisis and decrease the rate and impacts of climate change. A study found that the death toll due to climate change induced extreme weather events could be 60 percent lower by 2050 if 70 percent of girls achieved lower-secondary education.
According to UNESCO data, poverty continues to be one of the most important barriers to girls’ education. In over 20 countries, less than 10% of poor, rural, young women have completed upper secondary school. In Benin, Cameroon, Congo, and Mali, hardly any of the poorest girls have completed upper secondary education. 118.5 million girls of primary and secondary school age are out of school.
Investing in public education is investing in girls’ right to education
Free, quality, inclusive, and gender-transformative public education for all is a human right and a public good and the most effective way to ensure equity across our societies. Yet public education is under pressure around the world. Chronically underfunded for decades, public education systems are struggling to fully meet students’ needs. Simultaneously, growing privatisation and commercialisation in the sector are threatening to transform education into the privilege of a few, instead of the right of all. Girls are often the ones left behind.
Furthermore, the world needs tens of millions more teachers by 2030 to achieve universal basic education yet current trends see this deficit increasing, with many teachers leaving the profession and fewer young people aspiring to be teachers.
In response to this crisis, education unions across the globe are joining forces to build inclusive quality public education for all. Under the banner of Education International’s Go Public! Fund Education campaign, educators are calling on governments to invest in public education and to invest in teachers, the single most important factor in achieving quality education.
Education International and its member organisations will continue to mobilise and organise for free quality public education that advances the rights of girls in all their diversity and enables them to reach their full potential as leaders and change makers.